5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Confusing, but definitely worth the read,
This review is from: The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History (Fantasy Masterworks S.) (Paperback)This is one is from the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, and it actually won the World Fantasy Award back in 1984 against:
Pet Sematary, Stephen King
Wandering Unicorn, Manuel Lainez
Tea with the Black Dragon, R. A. MacAvoy
The Armageddon Rag, George R. R. Martin
Lyonesse, Jack Vance
Most of which I have heard of. Although it was only published 25 years ago, it is considered a modern classic by some, and there are whole websites devoted to the minutiae of Ford's story.
The Dragon Waiting is an alternate history novel, set in a Europe, in the Middle Ages, where Byzantium is still alive and kicking and Christianity is a just another minor sect amongst many. A large portion is set in Renaissance Italy, before shifting to the court of King Richard III in England, as our cast try to halt the relentless spread of the Byzantine Empire. With vampires. And a few wizards.
It's a crazy novel. The world-building is very, very good and will stay with me a long time, but I would probably have got more enjoyment if I had understood half of what was going on. There's an over-reliance on the historical knowledge of the reader, particularly with regard to the War of the Roses and Richard III. From what I can tell, though, Ford's re-imagining of Richard (determined to prove a villain or kindly hero?) is quite different to that of Shakespeare's eponymous play, and I expect that were I more familiar with all the subtle changes that Ford has made throughout this book, I'd have loved it. "Now is the winter of our discontent /Made glorious summer by this son of York." But I thought he was dead? Oh, wait, that's a different Richard of York... Even with my limited understanding, the world-building is still my favourite part of this book.
The characterisations were fairly good, and I enjoyed the eclectic nature of the dramatis personae. We have a Welsh wizard, Hywel; a German vampire, Gregory; a Florentine doctor-come-assassin, Cynthia; and Dimi, a French nobleman whose family was destroyed by a Byzantine ploy, and now seeks revenge as a mercenary. Dimi's reason for wanting to turn back the tide of the Byzantine spread, by -- in a complicated bit of politicking and intrigue -- going to England and fighting the War of the Roses, made the most sense to me. I couldn't really see the motives of the others.
It's a good book, one woven thickly with history and politics that are often hard to understand, but it's a done well enough as it is that it makes me want to do all the necessary research, including catching up on most of the history of the Middle Ages!, a confusing enough time even in "real" history: always a good sign. I look forward to re-reading this in twenty or thirty years time!